On Writing (and my memoir)
I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know my head. All my life, my thoughts have been ferocious and loud, clanging inside my skull, daring me to control them.
All my life, I’ve understood that they’d calm if I could pull them out like Professor Dumbledore with his sieve, reaching in and plucking forth the silver slither of a thought. Writing is like that for me. It’s bearing forth what’s rattled in me, setting it under the light and taking a good look at it. It’s scientific work.
I remember being fourteen years old and reading Song of Songs over and over in my bedroom, writing long treatises to Jesus about my insecurities and all those boys and how much I dreamed of one of them having a kind enough heart to notice me. Me in my wild-teethed, large-mouthed awkwardness. I knew if I couldn’t get the words down, I’d never be able to say it. And I knew I had to say it to Jesus. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be whole.
I’ve always been extroverted. I’ve always been “nice.” I’ve always been A Good Girl. But my inner life has been a separate space, a place where a lot of fear lived tangled up beside the courage. A place where metaphors spoke louder than realities. There the world runs in pictures and stories and meticulous details. It’s never been easy to pull those details out of my mouth. I could never come up with anything to say in college class discussions, even when it came to my favorite courses, Women in Literature and Contemporary Women Poets. Some people have a short electrical current running from brain to tongue. Their words arrive quick and impressive. Those people earn themselves titles like “intellectual” and “interesting.” My thoughts work and work inside and then they fight to come out. And even then, the pulling forth is painful. Writing is sometimes extraction.
Writing this book is lonely. My husband has always been my prime reader but right now he is the Other Character in this drama and reading my interpretation of him is tender work. We both put it off. Plus, we’re all exhausted and the boys are wild and sweaty and we’ve got to fill their bellies and wash their bodies and kiss their faces and tickle their ribs and get them to bed. And once that work is done, I don’t want to shove my manuscript under his face and wait for his response. Let’s put it off another day. Let’s talk about something else. Sometimes we chat about the book and I tell Chris how annoyed I am with my two-years-ago-self who can’t stop whining in this book. Whine Whine Worry Worry Pray, I say the book goes. Rinse and Repeat.
Sometimes I say, “I wrote something that I never knew I believed today,” and we talk about it, my husband telling me what I was like two years ago, reminding me how far we’ve traveled, the two of us.
It’s lonely work, the punching of keys and the mirror gazing of memoir writing. I hate myself in this book. I love myself. I’m annoyed by myself. I’m proud of myself. And then a little boy busts free from his babysitter and runs into my office begging to watch a show or in the background I hear a little one sobbing for his mama and I think: Is it worth it? Dredging all this up? Is it worth every hour I haven’t spent with these boys so I can pull out the thought that was so cloudy and noisy in my head and now looks like a butterfly on cement, sad but also kind of beautiful?
What I’m trying to say is that I have no choice. I have always been writing and my mind has always been writing me. And someday the two of us might meet in the middle and understand one another, like twins separated at birth and raised in far off cultures, who see each other across a crowded market, and know they’ve come home.
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